There is a Zen story which is quite relevant to introduce this topic.
A novice joined a monastery of a famous Zen master. As usual he asked for an interview with the master to receive instructions. “Where should I start from” was his question. The master pointed to the river nearby and replied: “do you hear that sound? Start from there.”
There is a widespread confusion about what awareness is or should be. This confusion comes from not having understood the basic difference between thought and perception. Most of us have difficulties to distinguish them, to differentiate them at every moment because we shift very quickly from one to the other. So some of us formulate the wrong conclusion that all is the outcome of thought.
The base for awareness is perception, physical perception or factual perception, just like hearing the sound of a river. This is our anchor, the place where we can safely start from for our enquiry into the phycological field. If we are not able to differentiate and so to dwell long enough in this state then our enquiries will be senseless. The senses, the physical senses are our life-belt, as the word “senseless” implies.
Reality is just what our senses perceive. The fact that we may get a wrong perception (due to several causes) does not invalidate this only way to be in touch with reality. Daily life requires us to be in touch with reality, so all of us have this capacity in different degrees and only a real alienate person or a madman has lost this capacity. This is a simple fact which does not need to be explained.
There is a similitude between our mind and the computer. Sometimes when we connect to a web site, we are not seeing the actual site but only a recorded one, stored in what is called “cache” memory. This is done to save time.
Similarly, we don’t really observe anymore the world around us because we have seen it so many times. Did you ever noticed that we, for instance, no more see the pictures we have in our walls? We have enjoyed them the first days we bought them and then after a while we stopped looking at them and give them for granted. Same thing with our friends, wives, husbands and so on. We only see our cache image.
How can we be sure to be really in touch with reality?
K. told us very clearly but it seems that very few of us payed attention to those words. K. used to ask: “Can you look, hear, with all your senses fully awake?”
Is that a transcendental state reserved only to special people like K?
No, it’s something quite common we all experiment once in a while; only we don’t give importance to it. Just two small examples. When we are in a completely new environment, like when we are travelling abroad, our senses are completely awake. We are eager to look, to hear, to smell everything new which is in front of us. That is of course if we are interested travelers and not just bored participants in an organized trip. And that’s why many people like to travel, to experience this sense of vitality, of the new.
The other case is when we are in a dangerous situation. We are crossing the street and a bus arrives. We immediately awake our senses to do the right and requested action.
(By the way, I made this example in a conversation, and the person accused me of wanting his death).
K. also referred to this state, calling it: “the art of observing” or “the art of listening”, and it’s something we all can learn to do in our daily life without the stimulus of a danger or of a new environment.
The importance of this state is that it bypasses the cache memory, so that we can see the reality as if for the first time. K. referred to this state when asked: “can you look at your wife without the past, as if for the first time?”.
And this means fist hand knowledge versus second hand or book knowledge. Something which also K. stressed. It’s appalling how the majority of people in this world never, or nearly never, uses or set in operation this first-hand knowledge. For centuries men have interpreted reality according to what their sacred books told, never asking themselves if there could be another way of knowing things. Then some men invented or discovered science, which is based on fist hand knowledge. It’s really sad that after all this time science is with us so few people (compared to the world population) have understood it. The majority of people, even in the western world, thinks that science is what one studies at school, that is second hand knowledge, and never appreciates the use of direct perception. This attitude is even more widespread in the so-called spiritual field where every knowledge is taken from a source of authority and not from reality itself. K. was the first to point out the necessity of direct perception and so direct knowledge.
Let’s examine a bit this state of having all our senses fully awake. We are fully aware of the outward reality, which is something happening now. This sense of the now is self-evident, it is proved by itself. No reasoning can prove it or not prove it. You will know it because your senses are fully operating without hindrances. So, you see clearly when you are thinking and when you are perceiving. The difference, which in our common drowsy state is not so clear, become unquestionable. This is the state we all must start from. And starting from this point, with this life-belt, we can adventure into the psychological realm without losing our orientation.